What time is the street ballet?

The ballet of the good city [footpath] never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with new improvisations.

-Jane Jacobs

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The diversity of urban life lends itself to street ballet every minute every day. As diversity has a spectrum, so echoes the spectrum of the street ballet. The Meanwood ballet’s got nothing on the St Kilda’s ballet. And I would say St Kilda’s street ballet is akin to Venice Beach’s ballet. No destinations? No people. No people? No ballet. William H Whyte was right. People are attracted to people. In neighbourhoods, that means that there are places to see and be seen.

Lucia’s Neigbourhood by Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek elucidates the manifold footpath improvisations occurring in one girl’s neighbourhood. Like Have you Seen my Dragon? or Footpath Flowers, a child walks through the neighbourhood. The intent here, however, is to give you a tour. From an early morning walk through the park, to the opening of the corner shops all the way through evening night markets, Lucia narrates the life of the people in her neighbourhood. She even lends cultural credo by talking about the Senhor Da Pedra festival where the street is decorated like Portugal. Lucia talks about porches, grandmas sitting in the sun, teenagers hanging out and the comings and goings of the tram driver. Illustrations are digitally rendered and are significantly replete with people.

Ankle biter 1 indulged me with this book. It’s not his thing. It encapsulates what he already lives. Honestly, he’d rather live it than read it. (And so he should). The problem with the tour concept is that for him, nothing happens. There’s no ‘adventure’ for him. (This book or this book provides ‘adventures’). It illustrates ‘community’ with all the people out and about but honestly, the static of the scenes doesn’t invite him to participate. Perhaps this will come back out when he’s ready to practice reading. Ahhhh for him to recognise the words ‘street ballet’, ‘neighborhood’ (even sans ‘u’) and porches.

I won’t lie. I ordered this week’s book right off the bat when I read that “seven-year-old-Lucia” was learning about Jane Jacobs. I should have read the title. It’s not blatantly about Jane; it’s about Lucia. This book, however, elucidates the type of neighbourhood that Jane would advocate. There is high movement and involvement among and between people due to the density, mixed neighbourhood uses and small street blocks. This is probably a cheeky primer for undergrads. For children, meh. Although this book is based on Montrose Avenue which has been internationally celebrated. Perhaps better as a moving piece rather than a static one?

Our street ballet usually involves dogs and small kids and sometimes a perusal of our library. Slowly the delight of the daily improv will radiate here. So what time is the street ballet? Depends. Who’s out on your street? What about your neighbourhood attracts other people?


Bicycle, Airships and Things that GO! A sustainability primer


Do the ankle biters know what that means? No.

Do they know the watershed from which the water filling their evening personal pool originates? Certainly not.

Do they know that 90% of the things they own are preloved? Maybe the younger one, but he’d never say.

Do they know that their veg is a little less than perfect or their fruits a bit wonky? No way.

But ask them about their favourite way to get to school and from both you’ll get an enthusiastic ‘BIKE.’ Or jogger pram. Sometimes bus. And before they could speak, trams. Do they know that these forms of transport are better for the environment? No. They just know what they like. And they like the freedom and the speed and seriously the wind on their face. “I like the fresh air, mum.” To inculcate sustainability, or preservation for the future, such a concept needs to be incorporated into their daily lives. They know no other and that they have fun doing it, so much the better.

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Thus, this week’s book is a special one. Bicycles, Airships and Things that GO! weaves a sneaky spy tale set against a futuristic sustainability backdrop. Written by Bernie McAllister, this book follows a family of four bears on an excursion from their eco-village to deliver an LED light suit created by Momma Bear to the Sunnyside Science Museum. Along the way they embark upon various forms of transport: bicycles, air ships, bike buses, high speed trains and ferries. A mischievous pair, Monkey and Toucan, are out to steal Momma Bear’s invention. Will they succeed? Think of it as a triple scoop delight of Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that GO!, Thomas Friedman’s Hot Flat and Crowded and Hanna & Barbera’s the Jetsons. It certainly gives a nod to Scarry’s animal anthropomorphism, explanatory captions as well as the loveable Goldbug (here represented by solar hornet). With its display of wind turbines, solar power plants and electrical vehicle charging stations, it resonates with Friedman’s clean technological breakthroughs. And the Jetsons? Well, the future awaits and we have the inspiration and technology now. The story isn’t overtly about sustainability but it’s easy to convey as much or as little as necessary if you are reading to ankle biters as I do.

Source: Press Kit | Kids Future Press

Ankle biter 1 sat intently through an online viewing* of this book. His favourite page features balloon cars. I think it’s because, other than the bikes, it was one of the few tangible things he recognises. “How do they move?” Silence and then “Do the balloons move the cars?” A nascent STEAM wonder on our hands.  He also asked about the wave energy machines. “What is THAT?” I thought they were large ocean snakes. (Are they? *ACK* I had to look it up. Perhaps during later readings, I could talk about biomimicry???  Floating snakes could feasibly inspire wave energy collection, hey?) Given the digital nature of this experience, finding solar hornet was a buzzkill- all pun intended. Rather than the glowing solar entity it should be, solar hornet is a difficult shadow to uncover. As for the story in of itself, it’s agreeable akin to this book about public transport or this book about cross-town adventures. Although when Momma Bear recognises the precariousness of Toucan’s and Monkey’s situation, I expected a tiny act of kindness.

I do adore this book because it provides an opportunity for the ankle biters to envision something different. We can’t expect change- sustainable, resilient, healthy, stimulating, whatever buzzword we want- if we can’t envision alternatives. This book helps depict an urban that I can imagine. I delight in the overflowing bike parking garages, vertical gardens, rooftop gardens, indoor urban farm and most especially the interactive public art installation inspired by this. Building an ankle biter’s budding vocabulary with ‘bus-top garden’ and ‘interactive tiles’? Yes, please. This book is gracious enough to include real world inspirations for each page. As such, there is much that can spark the urban imagination.

Whew. Will you read it? We will, again and again.

*For this review, I was generously given a digital, watermarked copy to review. The opinions here, as always, are my own.

Mischief in the street

Toucan stripes.


Zebra crossing. Call it what you will but those painted lines pretend to demarcate areas of safety for those afoot. Pretend because those lines act as drag strip race starting and finishing lines where drivers think pedestrians mere spectators. And spectators we are until we start to change our mindset about how we use and share our streets. Sorry automobiles, the time of your reign is over. Streets are for people. Way back when, The City Repair Project started cultivating community with the Sunnyside Piazza pictured below. Like Hans Moderman, Ben Hamilton-Baillie and David Engwitch, we should envision a new way to cross, walk, run, hop along our streets.

Streets made for people * theurbanimagined.wordpress.com

Cue this week’s short story, Lofty’s jungle fun taken from the Bob the Builder Annual 2005. For those of you uninitiated, Lofty is a blue crane truck (sometimes with wrecking ball) and part of Bob the Builder’s construction crew (with the likes of Scoop the digger, Muck the bulldozer). With two avid construction equipment ankle biter aficionados, it was only a matter of time that I’d mention Bob. I’m not quite sure why Lofty gets top billing as it is Spud, the scarecrow who steals the show, literally and figuratively in this story. A school mural is being painted by Molly. Vertically challenged, she Romper Rooms**some paint tins to use as stilts to finish the top edge of the mural. Spud absconds with the romper stompers stepping in paint along the way. He runs across town and leaves polka dotted trails especially over the new road crossing. His escapades finally end when he is hooked by Lofty. Spud is then required to clean up his mischief in the public realm.

Ankle biter 1 loves his Bob the Builder. Incidentally he broke out into the theme song during a premeditated silent stint in a publicly crowded place. He absorbs his two Bob annuals. Although there is no excavator in the crew, he eyeball-drying focuses on each adventure. So no brainer he loves the short story. I adore the story twofold. One, murals. Nothing like a little colour on the wall to enliven a space. Better yet if Molly invited the children to paint along- at least handprints-. Two, it hinted at the possibility of shared streets. Although I don’t like the fact that Spud was made to clean up his mess. Those polka dots may very well slow down traffic. Zebra crossings and footpaths should be made more colourful, more user-friendly. Place it on the radar of both perambulators and motorists.  Take a cue from Jody Xiong who created a green pedestrian crosswalk. Not only a statement on environmental responsibility but a visually arresting shared space. Next time you walk across the lines, think how the space might be altered with colour.

Jody Xiong creates a visual shared space *theurbanimagine.wordpress.com

**Yea, I may have dated myself. But back in the days I remember watching Romper Room. Boy, did I want to drive in those cardboard box fire engines!!! And because my parents weren’t suckers to advertising, I made do with my own romper stompers sans cans. More like walking strings. Ahhh childhood.

Images taken from Sunnyside Piazza — The City Repair Project, author’s photos of Bob the Builder and Green Pedestrian Crossing in China Creates Leaves from Footprints | Colossal

Tickling in public

I have a love/hate relationship with pianos.

I love the way it sounds but hated my piano lessons. I was less than virtuoso as my piano teach fell asleep. When she nodded off, I would tick the telltale mark on the corner of the sheets to represent my accomplishment of the task and then wake her up. Completely, not a virtuoso. Fast forward to the present and my heart has softened when I see pianos, especially pianos in public. Music in public transforms the dynamic of the space. It can either add to the cacophony of mobile phone talkers, taxi horns, bus brakes or completely transform the air into a symphony. Luke Jerram cleverly introduced this international tickling installation and we were lucky enough to experience it.

Tickling in public

It’s no wonder that David Litchfield’s The Bear and the Piano amuses our hearts. This picturesque story is about a bear who stumbles upon an upright in the forest. As it does, curiosity gets the best of the bear and the bear begins a lifelong affection with the piano and the wondrous sounds emanating from it. One day, a human hears the melody and urges the bear to come to the city (evidently Broadway) to play. The bear is swept up in the adulation of its musical talent but then pauses to ponder the twin notions of belonging and home. The illustrations celebrate the juxtapositions of human and animal, shadows and light, urban and rural, solitary and communal. A sweet sweet story and a fine addition to the urban ankle biter library.

Ankle biter 1 enjoyed it because he is finally delving into the concept of story-telling. His omnipresent “Why’s?” are finally being answered as he sits patiently and lets the tale unfold. The book, he felt, required some push the button musical narration given the centrality of the piano. Nevertheless, he enjoyed the fact that bears can travel into the city and receive “stand up clapping.” I enjoyed it because the story is inspired by The White Stripes Little Room. Also, it shares the unity inherent in music, whether playing or listening. I am connected to you in this moment and we belong here. Such connection is best experienced in the great outdoors and we should tickle away (as every good boy does fine). What instrument would you like to play in public?

Five distractions to start your weekend

Whimsy awakened with pedestrian and transport movement in a Jerusalem open market square. Source: HQ architects installs flowers that react to the environment

Paper, photographs and a bit of cheeky history: thanks Rich McCor

When a two hour delay transforms subway riders into a community

A high-fiving bee and the nature of humanity

What would you post on Alan Donohoe and Steven Parker’s The Waiting Wall?

Before the High Line

We should all know about the  benefits of green streetscapes. We may take it for granted that trees make us feel better as we march on towards our timely destination. Trees just don’t grow in of themselves, at least in cities. Someone needs to plant them. With this nugget of truth, I bring you Rose’s Garden by Peter H. Reynolds. It is “dedicated to Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy-celebrating the spirit of community, the beauty of nature and the power of faith and imagination.” While Rose is primarily known as the exceptional matriarch of the Kennedy dynasty, she is the namesake of the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston. The greenway is part of the Big Dig, the most expensive US highway project that rerouted Interstate 93 running through the heart of the city. Opened October 4, 2008, a series of organically maintained parks and connected public spaces sprouted from the elevated 93. FYI the first section of the High Line opened June 9, 2009. And I digress.

In this story, Rose is an adventurer set sail in a gigantic teapot. She collects seeds from each of her destinations. Arriving at an urban port, she wanders around the city when she spots “a dusty, forgotten stretch of earth.” Here, she decides to plant some seeds literally and figuratively. In trying to establish this garden, her home, she nurtures the land and the seeds. She waits through the seasons but nothing sprouts. Word spreads about Rose’s determination to wait for her flowers. In the interim, children of the city bring her paper flowers to ‘plant’ in her garden. Soon Rose’s garden is populated with paper flowers. Whilst relishing in this beauty, Rose’s notices that slowly real flowers are growing in-between the paper ones. Rose has finally found home and the last double page spread shows members of the community enjoying Rose’s garden.

I enjoyed the story because it is about urban horticulture. Never mind she was bringing seeds from faraway places and perhaps from a biological/ecological standpoint not so good an idea. But I relished the fact that Rose undertook some guerrilla gardening and children, from all walks of life came to celebrate. Ankle biter 1 loved the idea that in this world, people can sail in giant teapots. He liked how she collected things from each place she visited. I’m not sure whether that prompts him to collect things during each of his walks or if that’s just his thing or more appropriately an ankle biter thing. (I’m swayed towards the latter). He certainly likes flowers and exuberantly plucks new buds. Rose’s Garden gave me a talking point to say, “You want the flowers to grow don’t you? Just like Rose’s Garden?” A little pause, staring at the wilted buds in his hand. “Yes. But the kids came when there were no flowers.”

Bless. Oh little ankle biter, beauty and community is not either/or.

(Photo by Vivian Romero from the book Rose’s Garden,Peter H. Reynolds)

A video and five links to start your weekend

This NIMBY is self-interest redirected: go buy a mountain

World Food Day

With drinking straw in hand, Anna Hepler, you take my breathe away

Taxi Fabric weaves a story of Mumbai

What US$1 and a dream can buy in Chicago, thank you Theaster Gates.